Silke Otto-Knapp, professor of painting and drawing at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, died on Oct. 9 after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago. She was 52.
Otto-Knapp was a beloved faculty member and colleague in the art department since 2014 and an internationally renowned artist known for her poetic paintings, drawings and etchings. Her signature style employed subtle washes of watercolor, slowly built up layer by layer on the surface of the canvas and then rinsed or wiped away, resulting in lush, hazy paintings that have a ghostly and luminous quality. Her large-scale paintings evoke near-abstract landscapes and seascapes as well as figurative paintings based on historical documentation of dance, performance and stage design.
“Silke’s incredible dedication to the department of art over this past decade makes this a profound and deeply felt loss for our community,” said Catherine Opie, the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Professor of Art at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. “Her warmth, her commitment, and the beauty with which she pursued her work and teaching were monumental. Her many students will be forever changed by her honest generosity in support of their ideas and work as artists.”
Over a career that spanned more than two decades, Otto-Knapp’s work has been exhibited at galleries and museums in Berlin, Tokyo, Copenhagen, London, Istanbul and Boston, as well as Los Angeles. Her work is part of the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern and the Hammer Museum at UCLA.
Otto-Knapp’s work often engaged with the history of painting. For example, for the 2016 “Made in L.A.” biennial exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Otto-Knapp made a single large-scale painting for the Hammer’s lobby wall that related to Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Sky Above Clouds IV” (1965), another monumental work was situated in the landing of a staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago. Otto-Knapp’s “Seascape (with moon)” (2016) uses black and gray watercolors to depict silver islands and a moon floating in a vast black expanse of sea and sky.
Currently, a two-panel painting, “Monotone (Moonlit Scene after Samuel Palmer),” is included in “Joan Didion: What She Means,” a group exhibition opening Oct. 11 at the Hammer Museum. Solo exhibitions are set to open this month at Galerie Buchholz in New York and next month at Casa Mutina Milano in Milan, Italy.
Born in 1970 in Osnabrück, Germany, Otto-Knapp grew up on a dairy farm, which led to a deep interest in nature and landscapes. She received a degree in cultural studies from the University of Hildesheim and a master of fine arts from London’s Chelsea College of Art and Design, now known as the University of the Arts London.
Otto-Knapp died at her home in Pasadena. She is survived by her sister Iris Madill; sister Kirsten Otto-Knapp and her husband, Holger; and nieces and nephews Jannik, Sophie and Matilda Otto-Knapp and Alfie Madill.